The evening we arrived from Beijing to Datong we were picked up by members of tour agency from the railway station. No it wasn’t pre arranged. As often happens they were waiting for tourist outside the station to sell tours. We agreed to call to the agency to see what they had on offer. On the train we met American couple who already told us they were going to head off there straight from the train. So no surprise we met them there and negotiated the tour for 5 instead of 3. The tour guide informed us the hanging monastery was closed and you could only see it from outside (bottom of the mountain they were placed on) but we would be able to see Yungang Grottoes. It was 2h car ride to the monastery one way so we decided to skip it. So we went to the grottoes in the morning (a separate post on this later) and then left the tour to see City of Datong. This post is on Huayan Monastery located in the heart of the city.
Huayan Monastery (华严寺; Huáyán Sì) is located in the south-west of the ancient city of Datong (Daxi Street) and was first build in 1038 during the Liao Dynasty. The monastery covers 66,000 square meters. It comprises a beautiful and distinctive Main Gate, the Universal Brightness Hall, the Grand Hall, the Bhagavad Sutra Hall, the Huayan Pagoda and 30 other single buildings which are arranged along the north-south main axis.
According to historical records, Huayan sect of the Buddhism was popular in the Liao Dynasty. The emperor Daozong of the Liao Dynasty once wrote ten Buddhist volumes and carved the Kithans’ scripture in 597 sets, then put them in Bhagavad Sutra Hall in Huayan Monastery. As the stone and bronze statues of Liao’s emperors were put in the hall, it became an ancestral temple for royalty.
The Huayan buildings, sculptures, murals, ceiling decorations and caisson are of particular style and high artistic level, so the rare collection is called an art museum from Liao and Jin Dynasties.
The Grand Hall was first build in the 8th year of Qingning on the Liao Dynasty (1062) and rebuilt in the 3rd year of Tianjuan of the Jin Dynasty (1140). The hall covers an area of 1559 square meters and is the largest Buddhist hall of the Liao and Jin Dynasties in China today. The Great Hall stands on a 4-meter-high platform surrounded by handrails. In front of the platform, there are stone stairs.
The hall was built by way of reducing the pillars from inside. 12 pillars were removed so that the space was enlarged and the hall was more convenient for carrying out ritual activities. On the central altar inside, there are five statues of Buddha. The three statues in the middle were made in Beijing City in second year of the Xuande reign in the Ming Dynasty. The statues have a flat face, and their buns are decorated with pearls. 20 attendants stand leaning a bit forward, with different expressions and postures. Such special modeling is quite rare in China. Of course taking pictures is there forbidden so I just took one low quality photo from outside.
The Bhagavad Sutra Hall was first build in 7th year of Chongxi of the Liao Dynasty. contrary to the splendid upper temple, the lower temple, constructed in 1038, has a touch of quaintness, where Buddhist scripture are stored. The Trinity Buddhas comprising the Past Buddha, the Present Buddha and the future Buddha are enshrined and worshipped here. Around the sides of the Trinity Buddhas are twenty-eight guardian figures, among which the Bodhisattva with a pious prayer pose is the most lifelike. One of the statues of is a smiling Bodhisattva which is called “Oriental Venus” by Zheng Zhenduo, a famous historian in China.
The Huayan Pagoda is the second tallest square wooden tower which uses Sunmao structure without nails. It is 43 meter high and has a golden plate on the top and lotus pond at the base. A bronze hall was constructed under the ground, using more than 100 tons of bronze, it covers 500 square meters and consecrates the eminent monks relics. It’s really, really impressive. It’s the only one in China.
You can find more information on Huayan Monastery here in the meantime do enjoy the photos.